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Annual Reading Diary 2018

January 9th, 2019 · Uncategorized

The Breakdown

The second consecutive year I’ve fallen short of my reading goal. Not even close to reaching parity on fiction/non-fiction books. Reading really is a domestic pursuit and work and family pressures have been catching up with me in recent years. It’s been hard to get into a reading rhythm and I’ve defaulted to work related stuff as a result. Time for new resolution in the new year.


  • “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World” Bradley Hope and Tom Wright. A page turning account of how a mid-twenties MBA stole $5 billion to live the highlife in Hollywood and brought down a Malaysian PM in the process. Stay for the insights into SEAsian politics and banking and financial services providers governance.
  • “Sabrina”, Nick Drnaso. A rightly lauded graphic novel that shows how powerfully the medium can convey a sense of mood. Personalises the impact of the swing towards conspiracy theory and alternative realities in the public sphere. Disconcerting.
  • “Educated”, Tara Westover. A memoir of how the daughter of an extremist survivalist in rural Idaho who was never schooled and didn’t get a birth certificate until she was 9 years old became a Cambridge educated historian. An extraordinary story.
  • “Best We Forget: The War for White Australia”, Peter Cochrane. An important account of the kind of history that Australia excels at forgetting. Something that will slowly seep into the public consciousness over time.
  • “No Place Like Home: Repairing Australia’s Housing Crisis”, Peter Mares. An engaging and readable account of one of the major policy crises of our time. Dives deep into aspects of the issue that don’t usually attract public attention.
  • “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia”, Peter Pomerantsev. Not published in 2018, but feels more timely than ever. A Soviet-born UK journalist returns to Russia to work as a TV producer and documentation in the heart of Putin’s hall of mirrors. A disturbing account of what it’s like to live in a post truth, post institutional world.
  • “Pachinko”, Min Jin Lee. An immersive and granular multi-generational family saga straddling Korea, Japan, WW2 and the Korean War. Lots to say about familial obligation and the immigrant experience from a perspective that will be unfamiliar to many Western readers.


  • “Weatherboard and Iron”, Barnaby Joyce. The trifecta. Terrible politics, policy and prose. A really tough read.

The List

  1. “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World” Bradley Hope and Tom Wright
  2. “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up“, John Carreyrou. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy”, Michael Lewis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “Educated”, Tara Westover. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “The Arsonist”, Chloe Hooper. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “Sabrina”, Nick Drnaso. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “Radical Heart”, Shireen Morris. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Best We Forget: The War for White Australia”, Peter Cochrane. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “The World As It Is”, Ben Rhodes. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “The War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”, Ronan Farrow. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up”, Gabrielle Chan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “Teacher: One Woman’s Struggle to Keep the Heart in Teaching”, Gabbie Stroud. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “No Place Like Home: Repairing Australia’s Housing Crisis”, Peter Mares. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. “Convenience Store Woman”, Sayaka Murata. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism in the Eyes of Every Day People”, Julia Boyd. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “The Dawn of Eurasia: On The Trail of the New World Order”, Bruno Macaes. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “Milkman”, Anna Burns. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia”, Peter Pomerantsev. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia”, Clive Hamilton. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “How to Break Up With Your Phone”, Catherine Price. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “The Death of Truth”, Michiko Kakutani. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Fear: Trump in the White House”, Bob Woodward. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “The Billionaire Raj”, James Crabtree. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “Can it Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America”, Cass Sunstein. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump”, Dan Pfeiffer. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “So You Want to Talk About Race”, Ijeoma Oluo. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race to White People”, Reni Eddo-Lodge. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google”,Scott Galloway. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “BRIT(ish): On Race Identity and Belonging”, Afua Hirsch. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. “The Three-Body Problem”, Cixin Liu. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “A Wink From the Universe”, Martin Flanagan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “Pachinko”, Min Jin Lee. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. “Weatherboard and Iron”, Barnaby Joyce. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. “All for Australia”, Geoffrey Blainey. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. “Blue Collar Frayed”, Jennifer Rayner. Buy –Borrow – Toss

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Annual Reading Diary 2017

January 9th, 2019 · Uncategorized

  1. “Crocs in the Cabinet: Northern Territory Politics – an Instruction Manual on how NOT to run a government”, Ben Smee and Christopher Walsh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. “City Limits: Why Australia’s Cities Are Broken and How We Can Fix Them”, Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “Easternisation: War and Peace in the Asian Century”, Gideon Rachman. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “Gallipoli Sniper: The Life of Billy Sing”, John Hamilton. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “Britain, China and Colonial Australia”, Benjamin Mountford. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “The Long, Slow Death of White Australia”, Gwenda Tavan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “A Cabinet Diary”, Neal Blewett. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Crazy Rich Asians”, Kevin Kwan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “The Rohingyas”, Azeem Ibrahim. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “Finding George Orwell in Burma”, Emma Larkin. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “Burmese Days”, George Orwell. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “Churchill and Australia”, Graham Freudenberg. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “The Handmaid’s Tail”, Margaret Atwood. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. “Billy Sing: A Novel”, Ouyang Yu. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “I’m Not Racist, But…” Tim Southpommasane. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “One Halal of a Story”, Sam Dastyari. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “The Mighty West”, Kerrie Soraghan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “The Ideas Industry”, Daniel Drezner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Australia’s Immigration Revolution”, Andrew Markus, James Jupp and Peter McDonald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”, Barack Obama. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “Asylum by Boat: Origins of Australia’s Refugee Policy”, Claire Higgins. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World”, Bruce Schneier. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace”, Alexander Klimburg. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War”, Fred Kaplan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organised Cybercrime from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door”, Brian Krebs. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “Homage to Catalonia”, George Orwell. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “Labor of Love”, Terri Butler. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “Changing Jobs”, Jim Chalmers and Mike Quigley. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son”, Mark Colvin
  30. “Who Thought This was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House”, Alyssa Mastromonaco. Buy –Borrow – Toss

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Annual Reading Diary 2016

January 4th, 2017 · Admin, Reading Related

Every year I publish an Annual Reading Diary.  It’s a utility and a discipline. It creates a place that I can return to years later to track down the half-remembered books I’ve read when the need arises, as well as encouraging me to stay on track with my aim to read a book a week. It’s daggy, but useful.


  •  8 Fiction: 33 Non-Fiction – My worst year yet for maintaining some kind of balance between fiction and non-fiction reading. I have been doing a lot of reading for a few work projects I have on the go which was part of the problem. But ultimately, reading is a domestic activity and a stressful election year meant that I just couldn’t seem to clear my mind enough to concentrate on fiction reading. The Healing Party” by Micheline Lee was great, as was “The Eye of the Sheep” by Sophie Laguna, but in general I couldn’t really get in the groove. Something to work on in 2017.


  • “How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS“, David France – Overly-long and US-centric, but still a powerful and instructive account of how a marginalised, often outlawed community overcame astonishing institutional hostility and indifference from the US government, the FDA, pharma companies, hospitals, funeral homes, landlords, families and the general public to fight a plague that would ultimately kill 40m people.
  • “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between”, Hisham Matar – A memoir of exile and loss written by the novelist son of a Libyan dissident imprisoned and then killed by the Gaddafi regime that mines the rich seams of relationships between fathers and sons, between citizens and nations and between victims and escapees.
  • “One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath“, Asne Seirstad – An account of white supremacist, Anders Breivik’s terrorist attack on a youth camp run by the Norwegian Labour Party. Gut wrenching reading but a timely insight into the process of right wing radicalisation given the return of fascism and the increasing prominence of white supremacist racists in Western democracies.
  • “Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation“, Peter Mares – One of the most important books published in Australia in 2016. An impressive account of one of the biggest scandals in contemporary Australia; how we’ve sleepwalked into a policy environment that encourages the systemic exploitation of an underclass of millions of temporary migrants in our country.
  • “The Speechwriter“, Barton Swain – Part farce, part political surrealism. An English literature graduate turned political speech writer’s memoir of life inside South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s office while he “hiked the Appalachian Trail”. Almost as cringeworthy as Weiner.
  • “Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia“, John Fitzgerald – History told through the first person accounts of Chinese-Australians living under the White Australia policy. An invaluable antidote to nearly a century of myth-making that portrayed Chinese-Australians as a monolithic horde of coolies that threatened the very future of our nation through their supposedly unchangeable values, inimical to Australian egalitarianism and the ‘Fair Go’.


  • “It Can’t Happen Here“, Sinclair Lewis – recent developments might have made it newly relevant, but it’s functionally unreadable. Just dire.

The List:

  1. “Kinglake-350“, Adrian Hyland. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. “Australia and India: Mapping the Journey“, Meg Gurry. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “What I talk about when I talk about running“, Haruki Murakami. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia“, John Fitzgerald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “The Speechwriter“, Barton Swain. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “Fresh off the Boat“, Eddie Huang. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “The New Gold Mountain: The Chinese in Australia 1901-1921“, C.F. Yong. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Is Australia an Asian Country?“, Stephen FitzGerald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “Becoming Australian” Migration, Settlement, Citizenship“, Brian Galligan, Martina Boese and Melissa Phillipps. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “Australia’s Asia: From Yellow Peril to Asian Century“, Agnieszka Sobocinska and David Walker. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “The Eye of the Sheep“, Sophie Laguna. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “Firing Line: Australia’s Path to War“, James Brown. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “Balancing Act: Australia Between Recession and Renewal“, George Megalogenis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. “The Lucky Country“, Donald Horne. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “Mateship: A Very Australian History“, Nick Dyrenfurth. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “The Healing Party“, Micheline Lee. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia“, Agnieszka Sobocinska. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “Behind the Beautiful Rivers: Life and Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity“, Katherine Boo. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation Building for Australian Progressives“, Tim Soutphommasane. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “The Australians“, John Hirst. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “Hammer of the Left: The Battle for the Soul of the Labour Party“, John Golding. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Death of a Red Heroine“, Qiu Xiaolong. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “A Loyal Character Dancer“, Qui Xiaolong. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government“, Niki Savva. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “A Murder Without A Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle“, Martin McKenzie-Murray. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp“, Ben Rawlence. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “Keating“, Kerry O’Brien. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath“, Asne Seirstad. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future“, Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. “The Hate Race“, Maxine Beneba Clarke. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “Underground Airlines“, Ben Winters. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “Do Not Say We Have Nothing“, Madeleine Thien. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. “Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation“, Peter Mares. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS“, Joby Warrick. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. “Black Water“, Louise Doughty. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis“, Robert Putnam. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. “It Can’t Happen Here“, Sinclair Lewis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. “CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping“, Kerry Brown. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. “The Man in the High Castle“, Philip K Dick. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between”, Hisham Matar. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. “How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS“, David France. Buy –Borrow – Toss

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Annual Reading Diary 2015

January 4th, 2016 · Admin, Reading Related

Every year I publish an Annual Reading Diary to create a place where I can put my hands on things I half remember reading in the past and to encourage me to stay on track with my aim to read one book a week.

2015 was a bit of a down year reading wise – the process of publishing a book took a major chunk out of the increasingly small window of time I have for any discretionary activities these days and my reading suffered. Similarly, in order to justify the time, I found myself reading a lot more ‘for work’ this year – reading into countries I was travelling to and books that I ‘needed’ to read for the day job for one reason or another. As a result my fiction to non-fiction ratio blew out to 1:3 this year which was really disappointing – but a nice example of why it’s helpful to track these things. Something to work on prioritizing more next year.


  • Highlights:
    • “Beauty is a Wound“, Eka Kuniawan –  Immersive, multi-generational Indonesian magic realism. Like a stranger and more disturbing, Asian version of “Love in the Time of Cholera”.
    • “Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power”, Joel Deane – Great insight into the exercise of power and beautiful writing. Shows why we need more poets in politics.
    • “Between the World and Me“, Ta-Nehisi Coates – Visceral, psychical account of the modern experience of being an African-American in the United States. For a well-covered subject, it was impressive for avoiding cliche and offering a jolting and (for me at least) new perspective on racial inequality.
    • “Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister“, Peter Walsh – Notwithstanding the outdated views on women and climate, possibly the best practical articulation of the rationale and mission of the Labor Right (regardless of his formal alignment).
    • “Port Moresby Mixed Doubles: Stories of Expatriates in Papua New Guinea“, Michael Challinger – a series of fictional vignettes of post-colonial expat experiences in PNG. Bracing for the attitudes and behaviours it highlights but useful context for Australians interested in the country.
    • “Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam’s Beijing Envoy”, Steven FitzGerald – lively and fascinating account of Australia-China relations over the past 4o odd years told from the perspective of Australia’s first post-war Ambassador to China. Captures the excitement of the Whitlam era and the possibilities opened up by a wave of new thinking. A satisfying reminder of what Australia can achieve internationally if we are willing to articulate an ambitious vision and back it with courage and political commitment.
  • Lowlights:
    • Fifty Shades of Grey“, EL James – just as bad as everyone says – both in style and substance. Possibly worse. 
    • “10:04“, Ben Lerner – People I respect love this guy. I just can’t get past the self-absorption and pretense.  His first book was an highly-autobiographical post-modernist prose-first abstraction about writing a novel and his second book is a post-modernist prose-first abstraction about writing a second novel? Meh.
  • Breakdown:
    • 30 Non-Fiction / 10 Fiction. I aim for a 50-50 balance here so not a great result.

The List:

  1. “The Wife Drought”, Annabel Crabb. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. “Australia’s Defence: Towards a New Era?”, Peter Dean, Brendan Taylor, Stephan Fruhling. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “The Power and the Glory“, Graham Greene. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One“, David Kilcullen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a secret army and a war at the ends of the Earth“, Mark Mazzetti. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “War from the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics“, Emile Simpson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century“, Hamish McDonald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “10:04“, Ben Lerner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “Fifty Shades of Grey“, EL James. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “Diary of a Foreign Minister“, Bob Carr. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “The Last Vote: The Threats to Western Democracy“, Philip Coggan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “The Rosie Project“, Graeme Simsion. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister“, Peter Walsh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. “The Gillard Project: My Thousand Days of Despair and Hope“, Michael Cooney. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “The Girl on the Train“, Paula Hawkins. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “Geek Heresy: Reclaiming Social Change From the Cult of Technology“, Kentaro Toyama. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy“, John LeCarre. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “This House of Grief“, Helen Garner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Port Moresby Mixed Doubles: Stories of Expatriates in Papua New Guinea“, Michael Challinger. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “Throwim Way Leg: An Adventure“, Tim Flannery. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “The Long Green Shore“, John Hepworth. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Between the World and Me“, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Buy Borrow – Toss
  23. “Murphy’s Lore: Tales from the West“, Robert Murphy. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “Blood Year: Terror and the Islamic State“, David Kilcullen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power”, Joel Deane. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “The Long Haul: Lessons from Public Life”, John Brumby. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “Watson’s Pier”, Joshua Funder. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam’s Beijing Envoy”, Steven FitzGerald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “Growing Up Asian in Australia“, Alice Pung. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. “Australia’s Second Chance: What Our History Tells Us About Our Future”, George Megalogenis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “Restless Continent: Wealth, Rivalry and Asia’s New Geopolitics”, Michael Wesley. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “Faction Man: Bill Shorten’s Path to Power”, David Marr. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. “Purity“, Jonathan Franzen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. “Holding the Man“. Timothy Conigrave. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. “Imagined Communities“, Benedict Anderson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. “Condemned to Crisis?“, Ken Ward. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. “Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How to Govern“, Laura Tingle. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. “Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle“, Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. “Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia“, Amra Pajalic and Demet Divroren. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. “Beauty is a Wound“, Eka Kuniawan. Buy –Borrow – Toss

Previous Annual Reading Diaries.

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Annual Reading Diary 2014

January 4th, 2015 · Uncategorized


  1. “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy“, Christopher Hayes. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. “The Narrow Road to the Deep North“, Richard Flanagan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “The Blunders of Our Governments”, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “A Premier’s State”, Steve Bracks. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “The Australian Moment: How we were made for these times”, George Megalogenis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “How Labour Governs”, Vere Gordon Childe. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”, Ari Shavit. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Just So Happens”, Fumio Obata. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”, Anthony Marra. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World”, Michael Lewis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “Battlelines”, Tony Abbott. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “Why Australia Prospered: The Shifting Sources of Economic Growth”, Ian McLean. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport”, Anna Krien. Buy –Borrow – Toss.
  14. “Decoded: A Novel”, Mai Jia. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “The Stalking of Julia Gillard“, Kerry-Anne Walsh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage“, Alice Munro. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited“, Louisa Lim. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “The Silence of the Lambs”, Robert Harris. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Red Dragon”, Robert Harris. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe“, George Dyson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters“, Mark Henderson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Weapons of Mass Diplomacy“,  Abel Lanzac & Christophe Blain. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “The Interestings“, Meg Woltizer. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “Profiles in Courage“, John F Kennedy. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb“, Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste“, Carl Wilson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “The Rise and Fall of Australia“, Nick Bryant. Buy –Borrow – Toss.
  28. “The Political Bubble: Why Australians Don’t Trust Politics“, Mark Latham. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “The Economics of Just About Everything“, Andrew Leigh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. “The Submission“, Amy Waldman. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “Disconnected“, Andrew Leigh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy”,  Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. “The Good Fight: Six years, two prime ministers and staring down the Great Recession“, Wayne Swan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. “Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century“, Paul Collier. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. “Changing Shape: institutions for a digital age“, Martin Stewart-Weeks, Lindsay Tanner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. “The Divine Comedy“, Clive James, Dante Alighieri. Buy –Borrow –Toss
  37. “A Cambodian Prison Portrait”, Vann Nath. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. “Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare“, Philip Short. Buy –Borrow –Toss
  39. “Facing the Torturer“, Francois Bizot. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. “Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future”, Peter Thiel. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. “Her Father’s Daughter”, Alice Pung. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  42. “Laurinda”, Alice Pung. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  43. “Fun Home”, Alison Bechdel. Buy –Borrow – Toss.
  44. “Are You My Mother?”, Alison Bechdel. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  45. “The Last Vote: The Threats to Western Democracy”, Philip Coggan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  46. “Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics”, Michael Ignatieff. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  47. “The Adolescent Country”, Peter Hartcher. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  48. “Dragon’s Tail: The Lucky Country after the China Boom”, Andrew Charlton. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  49. “Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia Pacific”, Paul Keating. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  50. “Inside the Hawke–Keating Government: A Cabinet Diary”, Gareth Evans Buy –Borrow – Toss
  51. “Reports from a Turbulent Decade”, The Lowy Institute. Buy –Borrow –Toss
  52. “There Goes the Neighbourhood: Australia and the Rise of Asia”, Michael Wesley. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  53. “Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession”, James Brown. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  54. “Power Shift: Australia’s Future between Washington and Beijing”, Hugh White. Buy –Borrow – Toss

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Annual Reading Diary 2013

January 13th, 2014 · Admin, Reading Related

For a number of years now I’ve been publishing an Annual Reading Diary as a discipline to my resolution to read at least one book a week every year.

Disappointingly, this has been the first year since I made my resolution that I didn’t hit my target. In my defence, reading is a domestic activity and a new child and running for Parliament will change anyone’s routine! Hopefully my change in career doesn’t mean this goal won’t be achievable in the future…


  • Highlights: “The Fatal Shore”.China’s War with Japan“, “Out of the Mountains“, “Romulus, My Father“, “Remembering Babylon“.
  • Lowlights: “This Town”, the many hours I spent on The Game of Thrones books only to have but the vaguest idea of the characters and the plot six months later.
  • Breakdown: 24 Non-Fiction / 22 Fiction (depending on how you classify HhHH). I aim for a 50-50 balance here, so I’m pretty happy with that. A good excuse to sneak a few more fiction books in next year.

The List:

  1. On Warne“, Gideon Haigh. Our greatest cricket writer eschews the diary/biography construct that dominates sports writing and gives us an almost philosophical meditation on the savant-like genius of Shane Warne. As someone who loves the work of both Haigh and Warne, I couldn’t help but swoon for this book. Buy–Borrow – Toss
  2. #”Norwegian Wood“, Haruki Murakami. Along with “All the King’s Men” and “Gatsby”, I re-read this book every couple of years. Not because it is a work of literature of the same quality of those books, but because I first read it at a particular time in my life and I will forever feel like a 19 year old again while reading it. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “Gone Girl“, Gillian Flynn. Girl disappears leaving confused husband. Well, it was probably the stand out publishing sensation of the year (50 Shades Aside) and you can understand why. A fantastic pager turner that really sucked me in, but I couldn’t help be left a bit cold by its final fifth (which I will not spoil here). Buy – Borrow – Toss
  4. “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace“, DT Max. Pop biography of DFW. I love DFW’s style as an essayist and the humanist philosophy that he began to push late in his career really speaks to me. Which makes it all the sadder that he couldn’t seem to take any pleasure in his prose himself, nor take any comfort from the philosophy that he ultimately espoused. While a flawed work, this book left me with a great sense of melancholy thinking about this. Buy – Borrow – Toss
  5. “The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding“, Robert Hughes. The seminal account of Australia’s convict history. ‘Tour de Force’ is one of those phrases that is so over-used as to have become a meaningless, but this book represents everything of the phrase’s original import. A virtuoso piece of writing, scholarship and argument. Even given a subject matter about which most Australians now feel quite knowledgeable of (though did not when Hughes set out to write this book), readers will finish this book with a greater understanding of not just our nation’s history, but its soul.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America“, Robert Hughes. A polemic against lazy post-modernism. Hughes’ mastery of both convict era Australian history and of modern culture is enough to make anyone feel inadequate. There is a lot to like in this book, but with the passage of time and the shift in the debate around many of the issues that he tackles, there are aspects of this book where Hughes talks past the modern incarnation of his opponents. That being said, his clarion call for the defence of intrinsic excellence in all forms of culture is just as valuable today as it was twenty years ago.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “Pride and Prejudice“, Jane Austen. Sorry to say that it took me 30 years to get around to Jane Austen (I hadn’t even seen the BBC series before picking this up), but obviously it was my loss. I loved P&P and will have to work my way through the rest of Austen’s works in due course. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Loose: A Wild History“, Ouyang Yu. A complex mix of fiction and non-fiction across a range of genres and geographic settings. Sadly, I couldn’t get into this. I admired its structural ambition, but ultimately it just didn’t hang together well enough for me to feel invested in what was going on. Buy – Borrow – Toss 
  9. “After Words: The Post Prime Ministerial Speeches“, Paul Keating. A lengthy collection of Keating’s Post Prime-Ministerial speeches covering the full range of PJK’s polymath interests. Richer than the interview series with Kerry O’Brien and a testament to how much PJK still has to contribute to the Australian body politic. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “HhHH“, Laurent Binet. A French Post-Modernist true-fiction, first person account of the writing of a true-fiction account of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in occupied Prague (phew!). I had significant reservations about this book coming into it. In general, I find authors who insert their own stories into non-fiction works insufferably self-indulgent. Couple that with my perfectly healthy aversion to French Post-Modernism and this book was carrying a lot of baggage. But despite it all, Binet manages to pull it off in an engaging and reflective way. I ended up kind of loving this book. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “Dark Victory: How a Government Lied It’s Way to Political Triumph“, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson. A first class long-form piece of journalism about John Howard’s mendacious use of the Tampa affair in the lead up to the 2001 election. Depressing, but important reading. Still relevant to today’s political debate. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “Dark Market: How Hackers Became the New Mafia“, Misha Glenny. Former BBC Eastern-European correspondence tells the story of the early cyber-crime networks. I like Glenny’s journalism, but this isn’t his deepest work. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles“. Anthony Swafford. A classic grunt history of the first war in Iraq. Entertaining and insightful. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. “Madame Bovary“, Gustave Flaubert. Supposedly the original novel and classic tale of forbidden love, but I just couldn’t get into it. I haven’t worked out the French yet. Give me Tolstoy anyday. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “American Gods“, Neil Gaiman. Mankind’s gods are down and out in an age in which people worship new idols of money and technology. Entertaining pulp-fantasy fiction. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone v Disraeli“, Richard Aldous. A joint history of two of the largest figures of early Westminster democracy. I loved this book, full of wonderful factoids about the evolution of the norms of Westminster democracy. DYK that while Gladstone was PM on four separate occasions, he lost his own seat twice? Or that convention used to hold that an MP appointed to the Cabinet used to have to fight a by-election in their seat before they could take up their post? Great stuff. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “Romulus, My Father“, Raimond Gaita. Son’s account of his father’s Australian immigrant story. Meaningful, moving, poetic. Just brilliant. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei“, Barnaby Martin. The life and arrest of Ai Weiwei told through a series of interviews with the artist. Offers insights on art, repression and modern China. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Rome: An Empire’s Story“, Greg Woolf. An excellent introduction to the Roman Empire. Shorter than Gibbon. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “Remembering Babylon“, David Malouf. Semi-historical literary account of Australian pioneers encountering a shipwrecked Englishman who had been living with an Aboriginal tribe for a number of years. I love almost everything that Malouf has written and this is one of his better books. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places“, Paul Collier. Academic economist offers a layman’s account of the application of quantitative models and field research to the study of democracy in the third world. Offers plenty of challenging ideas to chew on. Not unlike “The Victory Lab” in parts. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Game of Thrones”, George RR Martin. I kind of hated myself after reading the Game of Thrones series. They are LONG and there are so many characters and stories that everything blends into an amorphous mass of medieval fantasy very quickly. But somehow I just couldn’t stop reading them. Looking back, it’s a mystery to me why I invested so much time in these books, but I shudder to think at the opportunity cost of it. I’m not linking to it because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to start the habit!  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “A Clash of Kings”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “A Storm of Swords”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “A Feast for Crows”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “A Dance with Dragons”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “The Art of Fielding”, Chad Harbach. Superstar college baseball player brought low. Beautifully written coupled with genuine and well drawn relationships between the protagonists makes for a fantastic read – but I thought it drifted a bit towards the end. Very good, but not great. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, Ben Fountain. A group of war heroes return to the US of furlough to attend a Dallas Cowboys football game. I thought this book was vastly over-rated. It’s an adequate account of American military pathos, but it was so heavy handed that I was groaning at times.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “The Orphan Master’s Son“, Adam Johnson. I didn’t love this as much as others seemed to. I suspect it suffers from having been released so soon after “Nothing to Envy”, which inevitably makes fiction about the brutality of North Korea seem hollow in comparison. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. “The Master of Go“, Yasunari Kawabata. Semi-Fictional account of the final, six month long match of an ageing Go Master. ‘Go’ has always fascinated me, I love Japanese literature as a rule and Kawabata is a Nobel Prize winning author… but I didn’t love this book. It was fine, but it didn’t stay with me after I’d finished it.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way”, Amanda Ripley. Accessible investigation of the characteristics that underpin the best performing nation’s school systems in the OECD’s PISA tests told through the device of American exchange students studying in this countries. This book has made a lot of ‘best of non-fiction’ lists this year and it’s easy to see why. It packs a lot of information into a very digestible format. For me the biggest take-away was the significance of high-expectations and emphasising the cultural importance of education in driving student performance. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character“, Paul Tough. Summary of recent academic literature emphasising the importance of non-cognitive skills in children’s ability to succeed academically and in the world outside the classroom. Persuasive and covers much of the same ground as “The Smartest Kids in the World”, from an individual student perspective. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. “Information Wants to be Shared“, Josh Gans. Aussie Economist Josh Gans posits that with the increasing returns to scale enabled by digital distribution, today information wants to be shared. Offers a more nuanced take than the ‘Information wants to be Free’ crowd. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. “The Sirens of Titan“, Kurt Vonnegut. Malachi Constant, the richest man of the 22nd century, journeys to Titan at the behest of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man trapped between dimensions. Classic Vonnegut; wry and mind bending. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. “Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia“, Andrew Leigh. Australia’s best Shadow Assistant Treasurer provides a persuasive and accessible summary of Australia’s growing economic inequality. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. “Imagining Australia: Ideas for our Future“, Macgregor Duncan, Andrew Leigh, David Madden, Peter Tynan. Enjoyable blue sky thinking from a group of young and idealistic Australians. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. “Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla“, David Kilcullen. Australia’s premier counter-insurgency expert posits that in the future, conflict will come ‘out of the mountains’ of rural Afghanistan and Pakistan and into the densely populated, globally and digitally connected, coastal cities of the developing world. In this environment, government, the military and criminal and para-military groups will fight for ‘competitive control’ over cities and communities. As a result, governance, and the exercise of force, have become far, far more complex than ever before. Kilcullen’s expertise in field research means that this book is brimming with detail, data and personal anecdote. Should be an influential book in political circles.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. “Barracuda“, Christos Tsiolkas. A champion swimmer from Australia’s multicultural working-class deals with failure. Not Tsiolkas’ best work, but laudable for continuing to give gay and non-anglo characters a greater prominence in Australian literature than they have had for some time. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. “A Journey“, Tony Blair. Blair’s take on his time in Government. Really, you’re enjoyment of this book will be largely determined by your pre-existing verdict on the man. So a largely self-selecting readership. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. “The Dawkins Revolution: 25 Years On“, Gwilym Croucher, Simon Marginson, Andrew Norton, Julie Wells. A worthy (if very dry!) collection or articles appraising the impact of one of Labor’s least appreciated, but most significant reforms. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia“, Mohsin Hamid. The fictional account of an Asian billionaire told in the style of a self-help book. Hamid is developing quite a unique voice and while this isn’t quite as good as “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, I enjoyed it very much. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  42. “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral and Plenty of Valet Parking“, Mark Leibovich. Tales of how Washington is a cynical and self-interested place. I really detested this book. There isn’t much easier in journalist than writing cynical pieces about politics. Sure US politics is broken, but I didn’t come away from this book feeling like I understood any of the main actors any better than I already do. Every political actor is a two-dimensional self-promoting cynic in Leibovich’s world and the only participants in the system who are granted the complexity of being even flawed human beings are a handful of journalists from a more noble golden age. Meh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  43. “The Dinner“, Herman Koch. A family convenes at a high end restaurant to confront a family secret. Described to me as ‘The Dutch Gone Girl’, which I can see to a certain extent. It was certainly a page turner at times, but ultimately it didn’t grab me in the same way and the ending left me even colder than the ending of Gone Girl. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  44. “China’s War With Japan: The Struggle for Survival“, Rana Mitter. Much as Antony Beevor used newly opened Soviet archives to popularise the story of the Eastern Front of WW2, Mitter uses new Chinese attitudes to archival material to provide a new perspective on the second Sino-Japanese War. Offers many insights to into subsequent events in Chinese domestic politics in the 20th century and particularly the tensions in the Chinese-US relationship. Highly recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  45. “Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East“, Ben Law. A whistlestop tour of gay communities and their varying issues in Asia. I read “The Family Law” a few years back and didn’t love it, but I’ve come to find that I like Law’s journalism. I think he’s quite talented and hope he does more reportage than cultural/personal essay writing in his career. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  46. “Average is Over“, Tyler Cowen. Cowen argues that the proliferation of technology is driving new extremes of labour force polarisation creating an employment market in which there are a small number of extreme beneficiaries, a larger group of people marketing specialised services to these people and an even larger group of very marginalised people. Buy –Borrow – Toss

2014 Reading Goals:

  • I’m DEFINITELY going to read a Patrick White (suggestions for the easiest way into his writing are welcome) and ‘The Man Who Loved Children‘. I’m starting to feel a little fraudulent as an Australian elected representative who hasn’t read some of the foundations of our canon.


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Annual Reading Diary 2012

December 20th, 2012 · Admin, Reading Related

For a number of years now I’ve been publishing an Annual Reading Diary in conjunction with my resolution to read at least one book a week every week of the year.

So without further ado, here’s the list for 2012:

  1. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, Maya Angelou. Autobiography African-American poet and writer. Tackles strong themes (Early 20th C Southern US racism and poverty, child rape, family break-down etc) beautifully and without excessive morbidity or sentimentally. A worthwhile read. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, Stieg Larsson – I resisted this for a long time, but caved when the Slate Culturefest reviewed it and gave it a tentative thumbs up. I liked it despite myself but the critiques about it’s very stereo-typically ‘male’ outlook are justified. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “American Psycho”, Brett Easton Ellis – Genuinely shocking. I was surprised that it is actually as explicit/offensive as claimed. I was also surprised by how little plot there was. That being said, it did have amusing stretches. The soliloquies on 80s music (particually Phil Collins) are genuinely brilliant. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth”, Xiaolu Guo. A teenage village girl runs away from her home to a series of menial jobs and unfulfilling relationships in Beijing.  A strong punk affectation, but an interesting snapshot of youth in a rapidly changing China. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation”, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. An abridged graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission’s report on the events leading up to September 11, 2001. A surprisingly effective medium for conveying the chronology of what occurred, but less effective when dealing with the report’s policy recommendations. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “Zoo Quest for a Dragon”, David Attenborough. An old fashioned adventure story. In the mid-1950s, David Attenborough travels to remote Indonesia in an effort to capture a Komodo Dragon for the London Zoo and a BBC TV Series. The complete naivety of Attenborough’s three man production team (the knew next to nothing about the Dragons at the start of the trip and were ultimately prevented from removing one from the country at the end of the trip) is charming for its time but somewhat astonishing today. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea”, John Armstrong – An examination of the concept of Civilisation and it’s value in a post-modern world. I came to this with high expectations imagining an update of Kenneth Clarke, only to be disappointed. I’ve enjoyed Armstrong’s previous books (particularly ‘Conditions of Love’), but this one couldn’t hold my interest. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Leaves of Grass”, Walt Whitman. Peerless poetry. Accessible on a superficial level, but always rewarding closer reading. Universally enriching. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “The Way of the Greeks”, Edith Hamilton. A very high quality cliff’s notes to the philosophy, history, drama and art of the ancient Greeks. A favourite of RFK, Hamilton’s work conveys the extraordinary achievements of this fertile period of history with the respect and depth necessary to do the topic justice, but in a way that is accessible to those innocent of the classics.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “The Noodlemaker”, Ma Jian. A collection of short stories of modern China told through a series of drunken dinners between two friends with a shared history of conflict. Dark, satirical modern Chinese fiction. The book jacket described it as Kunderaesq and I have to be cheap and derivative and agree. Recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “The Uninvited”, Geling Yan. More Modern Chinese Satire. An unemployed Chinese factory worker discovers that by posing as a journalist he can eat at the free buffet’s of Chinas nascent PR industry. The protagonist is drawn into a mystery but I’d already lost interest by then. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “A Good Fall”, Ha Jin. A collection of short stories exploring the experiences of the Chinese immigrant community in the United States. Ha Jin is a favourite author of mine and his simple prose is perfect for a collection of stories about immigrants struggling to connect in an alien environment. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “Mudslingers: The 25 Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time”, Kerwin Swint. A straightforward list book cataloging the roughest political campaigns in US history. If nothing else this is worth reading to comprehensively disabuse oneself of the notion that there was once a golden era of politics in which gentlemen debated the public interest in a Habermasian public sphere. The dirtiest campaigns in this book are frequently the oldest ones…   Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”, Wells Tower. Perfectly adequate collection of modern literary short stories. Promised much but didn’t quite transcend the genre.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. “Life and Fate”, Vasily Grossman – Epic historical fiction covering the sweep of the Eastern Front of WW2 from the perspective of an extended Russian Jewish family. With a scope that stretches from Stalin in the Kremlin, to a unit of Russian soldiers besieged in Pavlov’s House during the battle of Stalingrad, to a Commissar in a Russian tank battalion leading Operation Uranus, to a Russian General in a Nazi concentration camp, to a Jewish scientist working on an atomic bomb while being hounded by Stalin’s secret police, to a Jewish child walking into the gas chambers in Auschwitz the canvas of this book is awe inspiring. And all written by a Russian Jewish journalist who lived with the Red Army from Stalingrad to Berlin. It’s no coincidence that this book was named to invoke “War and Peace”. Truly one of the Great Books of the 20th Century.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. “The Road”, Cormac McCarthy. Father and Son travel across post-apocalyptic landscape with little hope or overt purpose. Grim, unrelenting utterly parodic of McCarthy’s oeuvre.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, David Sedaris – Humorous autobiographical essays. I read this as a palate cleanser after The Road. Largely pointless and lacking in substance/meaning. I enjoyed this so little that it made me uncomfortable at my intellectual snobbery. Far inferior to Augusten Burroughs in this genre. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “If this is a Man”, Primo Levi – Adorno might have said that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz, but “If This is a Man” is not only bears witness for the most horrific event of the 20th century, but does so in an indisputably artistic manner. Levi marshals the moral power of art to leave the reader greatly shaken. Given its brief length this really should be a must read for all thinking people. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “American Born Chinese”,  Gene Luen Yang. Graphic novel of the school life travails of a Chinese-American Boy interspersed with the myth of the Monkey King and the Journey to the West. Works in a weird way but nothing earth shattering. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”, Dai Sijie. Two young school friends are sent  for re-education in rural China as part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They discover a cache of European novels and use them to woo a ‘Little Chinese Seamstress’. A cute concept and elegantly written  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. “Novel without a Name”, Duong Thu Huong. A Viet-Cong unit leader travels across Vietnam to visit his home village after 10 years of guerilla warfare. Poetic and polemical. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Once Upon a Moonless Night”, Dai Sijie. A Western academic seeks a Buddhist sutra once owned by last emperor of China. I’ve like Dai Sijie’s other books and I thought the concept was interesting, but the text was too florid for me to be able to get engaged with this book.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “Shakespeare”, Bill Bryson. Everything you expect from Bryson. A short, light fact-filled but analysis-light account of the life and works of Will Shakespeare. Engaging but not life changing. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “My Reading Life”, Bob Carr. Former NSW Premier and current Minister for Foreign Affairs writes about the books that have had the greatest impact on his life. Inspired me to make a greater effort with the French and Russian classics next year. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “Ready, Player One”, Ernest Cline. Ecentric billionaire and creator of a massively multi-player virtual reality world dies and establishes an elaborate 80s geek culture public contest to win his bequest. Harmless science fiction. The author gave away a Delorean as part of his book tour so that’s pretty cool. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “Arguably”, Christopher Hitchens. A collection of more than 100 of Hitchens’ essays on history, politics and culture. First class. Talking about Hitchens’ essays is one of the few contexts in which you can use the word ‘Orwellian’ as a complimentary adjective. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House”, Rob Chalmers. 60 year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery gives a first hand account of life in the gallery in Old Parliament House. Equal parts fascinating, rambling and salacious. A testament to the uniqueness of Australian Democracy. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “The Master and Marguerita”,  Mikhail Bulgakov – The Devil visits Soviet Moscow. Magic realism ensues. Quite bizare at times and not for everyone. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. “Death Note: Vol 1 – 108“, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. One of the most significant Japanese Mangas. The son of the Tokyo police commissioner finds a magical note book that enables the owner to kill any individual by writing their name in the book. The story goes through the looking glass when the protagonist begins using the book to kill of the worlds criminal class and starts mind bending game of cat and mouse with a secretive super cop. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything ‘twisty-er’ than this before. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. “Darkness at Noon“, Arthur Koesteller. An old Bolshevik is arrested and tried by the secret police for treason against the state. It’s what you would get if you combined Kafka and Orwell and added a dimension of moral responsibility (and hence complexity). One of the classics of the 20th century, though a book that you suspect will fall from public awareness as memories of the Soviet Union fade. A story that could only be written by someone who was both an ex-communist and who has been jailed for an extended period. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “Huey Long“, T. Harry Williams – Barnstorming biography of Louisiana demagogue, Governor and Senator, Huey Long. Anecdotes of the craft of politics abound and while this is a hefty tome, it doesn’t read long once you get into the rythms of Southern Democratic politics. Highly recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “God is Not Great“, Christopher Hitchens. No one does polemic like Hitchens and “God is Not Great” manages to must the same passion and rage as “The God Delusion” without indulging in the same contempt and condescension for the religious. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. “A Moveable Feast“, Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway on Hemingway (and Fitzgerald and Stein and Pound) in inter-war Paris. A pocket-sized classic filled with genuine insights on life and the artistic process. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. “The Western Cannon: The Books and School of the Ages“, Harold Bloom – I’ve been listening to this via audiobook for the better part of a six months now (33+hours). Bloom reads it and he sounds just as sententious as you’d expect. There’s a lot of meaty substance in this and some worthy critiques of modern academic literary studies, but the bulk is reactionary pomposity. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. “Captain China Volume 1“, Chi Wang and Jim Lai – A Chinese nationalist response to Captain America. Captain China saves President Obama from an assassination attempt. It’s exactly as bizarre as it sounds.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. “Stiff“, Shane Maloney. Electorate Officer for a Western Melbourne State Labor Minister is drawn into an intrigue of industrial scheming and murder. A high quality gumshoe genre book. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds“, Kinzer, Stephen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. #”Burr“, Gore Vidal – The story of a Revolutionary War hero, Senator and the first Vice-President of the United States to kill someone in a duel while in office. Arguably better than “Lincoln” if only because of its close (and often defamatory) imaginings of the most prominent figures in the Revolutionary USA, but regardless a must read for anyone with an interest in early US history. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. “The Rise of the Fifth Estate“, Greg Jericho.First hand account of the emergence of social media as a new voice in the Australian political ecosystem and the ructions that this caused for existing institutions. A great way for new-comers to catch up on the online events of the past six years.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. #”Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen“, Hugh Lunn. Recent events in Queensland inspired me to grab this one off the bookshelf for a re-read.   Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. “Ocean of Words“, Ha Jin. A collection of short stories revolving around a Chinese military base on the Chinese-Russian border during the Cultural Revolution. In addition to being a sensitive and insightful story-teller, Ha Jin focus on the individual in a totalitarian state is a valuable rejoinder to the stereo-type of the Chinese masses. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  42. “Ransom: A Novel“, David Malouf – A retelling of the encounter between Priam and Achilles in the Illiad. A moving book that works on the small scale of human emotion and the larger scale of cultural expectation at the same time. Recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  43. “Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets“, Sudhir Venkatesh. Sociology graduate student embeds himself with a gang leader in a Chicago housing project. Told in a narrative, confessional style rather than as a sociological treatise which makes the book both accessible and surprisingly intimate. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  44. “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns“, Sasha Issenberg – In depth study of the growing application data driven, empirically social psychology tactics in modern political campaigning. The 50% of this book that is good is very good, but it meanders a lot in the middle parts by telling the story chronologically (as campaigns and political scientists floundered while trying to get rigor into what they were doing). Buy –Borrow – Toss
  45. “Freedom“, Jonathan Franzen – I had put off reading this for more than 12 months as I wanted to consume it free from the climate of hype that surrounds everything that Franzen produces. You can believe the hype though as this was an extraordinary book. Frazen’s close studies of the late 20th century American middle-class and their family dynamics really are extraordinary. If you didn’t like ‘The Corrections”, you probably won’t like this either, but in many ways this book exceeded its predecessor. Buy – Borrow – Toss
  46. “Leaving the Atocha Station“, Ben Lerner – An interesting read. I didn’t like it, but might recommend it. It’s a book that’s prompted a number of good debates with friends and if nothing else it’s great source material for trolling the literary set. I’m convinced there’s an aspect of satire to the book – the author is taking the piss out of the self-seriousness of the protagonist. Sentences like this are inexplicable otherwise: “It didn’t matter; every sentence, regardless of its subject, became mimetic of the action of the train, and the train mimetic of the sentence, and I felt suddenly coeval with its syntax.” But if you take it at face value, a more  cynical interpretation is that the language of literary poetry in the book is used not for satire or to create room for the projection of meaning by the reader (a theme explored by the protagonist), but merely as a signalling tool to demonstrate literary acuity. It’s all about the author rather than the reader. In the hands of a virtuoso this can be forgivable as it’s fun just to go on the ride with them, but in the hands of even just a ‘good’ writer it serves no purpose but to stroke the writer’s ego within their community of practice. It’s no better than French Philosophy. The best parts of this book were the exploration of projection/communication that come in the sections of dialogue where the protagonist is struggling to understand the local language. I thought the paragraphs where he unfolded the potential meanings of what he was hearing in Spanish were quite beautiful and close to my favourite parts of the book: eg “she might have described swimming in the lake as a child, or said that lakes reminded her of being a child, or asked me if I’d enjoyed swimming as a child, or said that what she’d said about the moon was childish.” A nice device that I would enjoy in a poem (or even series of poems) but if it was the premise of the entire book I thought it was a reach.  Buy – Borrow – Toss
  47. “Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works“: Tim Soutphommasane – One of the books of the year for those interested in Australian politics and policy making. Southphommasane makes a persuasive case that the Australian model of multiculturalism, founded on the rights and obligations of citizenship, has been uniquely successful – particularly in comparison to the vastly different approaches employed in Europe. One of those rare books that has led me to think about an issue very differently after reading than before. – Buy –Borrow – Toss
  48. “This is How You Lose Her“, Junot Diaz – An entire collection of short stories about male infidelity? An interesting subject for a concept album. Diaz faculty for description – particularly of women – is very impressive, but he’s also a very sensitive writer and he paints a nuanced picture of the emotional life of his characters. Reminded me of Raymond Carver’s “What we Talk About When We Talk About Love” in some respects. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  49. “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail But Some Don’t“, Nate Silver – NOT just a book about polling and political punditry, but rather a very detailed examination of the limitations of forecasting and prediction across a range of subject areas (including weather, hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism, baseball, politics, economic forecasting). The book’s focus on the limitations of statistical forecasting is high irony given the (generally) uninformed criticisms Silver faced during the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign. Silver’s  explanation of the limitations of Fischerian statistical inference (particularly the scourge of statistical significance and overfit models) should be included in all introductory statistics courses. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  50. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War“, Max Brooks – A pastiche of first person accounts from across the globe of a zombie apocalypse. Largely Sci-Fi escapism despite Daniel Drezner’s (partly tongue in cheek) efforts to talk up the geo-political insight of the differing international approaches to the end of the world portrayed in this book. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  51. “On Our Selection“, Steele Rudd – As someone who has family roots on the Darling Downs stretching back to the days of Dad and Dave it pains me to say it, but this book has not aged well. The slapstick comedy doesn’t really translate across generations and the constant stories of animal cruelty as humour were enough to put even me off. Go to Henry Lawson if you’re looking for an Australian literary taste of this period.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  52. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love“, Raymond Carver – Brief and obtuse, but strangely  moving. I can see why this book is still considered to be so influential 30 years after it was written. I was particularly delighted to unexpectedly come across a short story (“So Much Water, So Close to Home”) that was obviously the inspiration for the Paul Kelly song “Everything’s Turning to White” and the eponym for the Album from which it comes. If you haven’t read any Carver before, this should give you a feel for the books oeuvre.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  53. “The Great Books“, David Denby – New York movie critic re-takes Columbia University’s mandatory ‘Great Books’ course in middle age wrestling with the canon of Western Civilization alongside Freshmen and Sophomores. A good, high level introduction to the Great Books coupled with a sensible discussion of the cultural role and relevance in a modern, pluralistic society. Buy –Borrow – Toss

Some thoughts on my year in reading:

  • Highlights for the year were “Life and Fate“, “If This Is a Man” and “Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From“. Heavy going in retrospect.  I really liked “This is How You Lose Her” too which is a bit lighter.
  • Every literate member of the human race should make the (minor) effort to read “If This is a ManIt’s short, it’s moving and its important.
  • 20 Non-Fiction books and 33 Fiction books – a little out of kilter given that I generally aim for a 50:50 split here.
  • Partial-marks on delivering on my reading goals for 2012. On the positive side I got back into Asian literature with a vengeance this year and made a real discovery with Ma Jian. On the negative side, Mishima’s The Sea of Fertility remains uncompleted and the only poetry I read this year was “Leave of Grass”. I tried Philip Larkin and found him a bit too curmudgeonly for my tastes sadly. I’ve been looking for a Ruthven Todd collection for more than 12 months now to no avail.

My reading goals for 2013 are:

  • The Russians and the French  – I tried some Flaubert (“A Sentimental Education”) this year but couldn’t hack it and gave up after a few days. I’m resolved to make a greater effort next year. At the very least I’m going to break into Tolstoy – Anna Karenina has been sitting in my ‘To Read’ queue for far too long. I feel embarrassed to be 30 and not to have read any of his stuff yet given how much trash I have torn through in my life.
  • Mishima – I’m definitely coming back to The Sea of Fertility this year as well. Definitely. I’m resolved.
  • At Least One Classic  – having read Denby’s “Great Books” and Carr’s “My Reading Like”, I’m resolved to read at least one classic next year. I’m leaning towards Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ at this point, but I’m open to persuasion from classically minded friends…

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Political Behaviour as a Pro-Social Activity – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg

December 6th, 2012 · Campaigning, Democracy, Politics, Psychology, Social Psychology

Rogers and Grebner were coming from a different set of questions but arriving at a similar understanding of what drove political activity. No one decided to vote in a vacuum, and interpersonal interactions mattered. In fact, their psychologically minded tests and feints were moving toward something that felt very familiar to Gerber. Rogers’s project to promote voting as popular and Grebner’s threats to expose scofflaws had, if only briefly, reconstructed small corners of late-nineteenth-century America, where voting was a community activity. Since writing his dissertation about the introduction of the secret ballot, Gerber had spent much of his time trying to isolate the slightest ways to increase turnout in the system it had created. In Gerber’s eyes, the nineteenth century, where men packed onto courthouse steps to select their leaders with raised hands or words bellowed over the din, represented a kind of Edenic political space of widespread participation.

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The Importance of Voter Contact – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg

December 6th, 2012 · Campaigning, Politics

When the results of the experiment came in, the phone calls showed no influence in getting people to vote. The direct-mail program increased turnout a modest but appreciable 0.6 percentage points for each postcard sent. (The experiment sent up to three pieces per household.) But the real revelation was in the group of voters successfully visited by one of the student teams: they turned out at a rate 8.7 percentage points higher than the control sample, an impact larger than the margin in most competitive elections.

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Political Advice and Story Telling – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg

December 5th, 2012 · Campaigning, Data, Narrative, Politics

“A lot of what gets done on campaigns gets done on the basis of anecdotal evidence, which often comes down to who is a better storyteller. Who tells a better story about what works and what doesn’t work?” says Christopher Mann, a former executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party.

The people who explain politics for a living—the politicians themselves, their advisers, the media who cover them—love to reach tidy conclusions like this one. Elections are decided by charismatic personalities, strategic maneuvers, the power of rhetoric, the zeitgeist of the political moment. The explainers cloak themselves in loose-fitting theories because they offer a narrative comfort, unlike the more honest acknowledgment that elections hinge on the motivations of millions of individual human beings and their messy, illogical, often unknowable psychologies.

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